22 March 2010

Personality Cult

Take a gander at a Canadian Press story about the personality cult surrounding the Premier and you’ll notice some rather curious things.

Of course there are the cultists themselves who display the characteristic worship of the Premier, the propagation of the usual myths and the patronising and paternalistic way these people look at politics.  To wit:

“Blair”:…The one thing I can say for certain is that he has accomplised  [sic]the most possible for this province, and I see no leader that could possibly shake my belief in him and his ability to run our great Province.

“C”:…I can finally say that there is a premier that I am proud of.  I can honestly say that when I am represented by MY premier I'm not cringing in anticipation of his comments like so many in the past.

“Seriously”:…Danny Williams is successful because he doesn't need the office. He can make decisions that have better long term outcomes because he doesn't need the office.

By far the best example of the personality cultist view came from someone who signed with a pseudonym “Joe Blow”:

But Danny already has everything he wants when it comes to money. Now what he wants is a better future for his people, and he is succeeding in this.

[Lorraine] Michael wonders how long the Cult of Danny can endure?

Here is your answer.

Death will be the only thing that stops this man from ensuring that our province thrives.

“Now what he wants is a better future for his people, and he is succeeding in this.”  There can be no clearer statement of that view which reduces individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador to the status of children fit for nothing better than to be looked after.

Such is the essence of personality cults.

It’s also worth noting this comment:

"If anybody thinks democracy is healthy in this province just look at the voter turnout the other day," said Michael Temelini, a political scientist at Memorial University.

"As popular as (Williams) may be, we should be paying as much attention to the House of Assembly and its important role in upholding our democratic system. People should stop paying so much attention to the executive branch. But that's what happens when you get one party in power.

"What's going on in Newfoundland is people are just going to wait until Danny Williams retires. Now that's a problem."

There is nothing evident today that was not also evident five or six years ago but that’s really another issue.  The thing to note is that Temelini – once a very public Dan-o-phile – is now a solid critic of where the province is under Williams’ leadership.

Temelini isn’t alone in this.  There are a number of public commentators who have gone from praising the Premier to be concerned for the state of public life in the province.  Then there are the comments coming from all corners of the province that express some frustration with things in Newfoundland and Labrador after seven years of Danny.  Increasingly the grumbling is coming from within the Tory party, especially among the old townie establishment part of the Blue Machine.  it’s all still very much quiet grumbling of the sort where people are a bit self-conscious that word might spread back to Hisself and Hisself’s hangers-on. But five years ago, no one would have dreamed of even thinking of being disgruntled let alone expressing it.

Moods are shifting.

Still, some people quoted in the article seem to recognise  - albeit vaguely – that there is an issue even if they quite obviously don’t know what to do about it.

"Why do people put so much hope in one person?" wonders Lorraine Michael, the sole New Democrat in a Gang of Five opposition that includes four Liberals.

"We do have a personality cult mentality here in Newfoundland and Labrador and a lot of it is based on his personality."

That last bit is by no means clear.  The worship of an individual in the fashion seen in this province over the past few years speaks to a much deeper cultural issue  - a cultural disorder – rather than something as simple as “he is a sweet guy” or “he is a bully” or “he is very charismatic.” take your pick:  those are all descriptions of a personality but they don’t explain the bootlicking toadying of so many out there.

Nor does it explain the unwillingness of Michael and the four Liberal opposition members to resist being steamrolled by Mr. Popularity.  Just because someone is popular, even if he or she is actually that popular, doe snot make them correct in decisions. Rolling over on something like the expropriation bill, for example, simply shouldn’t happen in a healthy democracy.

Still, recognising there is a problem is the first step in finding a solution.